Another one bites the dust

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Waldorf_Spins&Needles_Flickr

The same old Vancouver story: The Waldorf is sold to condo developer

By Alicia Wrobel
Photos by Spins & Needles

If you’ve not already heard, the Waldorf Hotel has been sold to Solterra Group Properties, and the existing lease with Waldorf Productions Inc. — the group that renovated the hotel and turned it into a cultural hub over the last couple of years — has lapsed. Though the family that owned the hotel could have made it a lease condition for Waldorf Productions Inc. to continue with the new owner, they did not. It’s unclear exactly why.

Ever since the announcement was made that the hotel had been sold, a massive amount of public support has emerged, manifested in the event “The Waldorf Love In”, which took place on Jan. 13. Gen Why Media, a group committed to innovative civic engagement, has also been backing Waldorf Productions Inc. in their fight by launching the #savethewaldorf campaign.

Soon after the announcement was made, a twist in the story emerged. News broke that a member of Waldorf Productions Inc. had at one point approached an architect and urban planner about revamping the area — including the hotel itself. Though at first this seemed to contradict to the pro-arts stance the lessees of the hotel took on the area, suggesting that they may have contributed to their own demise. Waldorf Productions Inc. later clarified in The Georgia Straight that the intention was to investigate opportunities and the possibility of “a mix of residential, affordable housing, mixed artist live work, industrial studios, and commercial-retail,” which would have helped the area thrive.

Buyer Solterra has said they have no intention of demolishing the tiki-themed landmark hotel built in 1947, but some refuse to accept this statement as rumours that the company is set to build a series of condominiums run rampant. A simple visit to Solterra’s website will prove that condos are not their only business: their definite plans remain a mystery, and rezoning is not going to be easy.

Trish French, retired assistant director of planning for the City of Vancouver, pointed out that “the existing MC-2 mixed use zoning on the Waldorf site, and along the north side of Hastings from Clark to Semlin, does not permit the development of condos.” To add to this, she says that though development may occur in the future, Solterra “may be reasonable landlords for the Waldorf folks.” So why the backlash if Solterra may end up keeping the Waldorf intact?

In the past year, Waldorf Productions Inc. has done a stellar job of bringing life back to the East Hastings Community; more than likely raising the area’s profile and value. But what is really at risk here: a business or a hit to the arts scene? Or both? There is only a handful of “hip” venues left in Vancouver that host and cater to a younger, alternative crowd, including Raw Canvas, The Media Club, The Cultch and The Rio Theatre (which had its own share of operational difficulties early in 2012). The city has put in a minimal effort to preserve and nurture the arts scene, and the selling of the Waldorf is just a symptom of this greater problem.

Though buskers have become more prominent, having an influence on the city’s participation in the Vancouver International Busker Festival and the Make Music Festival last June, it’s not easy to forget the fallen. The Waldorf has become just another arts venue threatened by unwanted development, standing alongside the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company, W2 Community Media Arts Society, the Ridge Theatre and Granville 7 theatres.

Though some argue that Waldorf Productions Inc. may not have been the best operator of business for some time, this doesn’t make what is happening right. In an interview with The Province, published on Jan. 15, literary-music event promoter Jules Moore said, “the building is important, but it’s just a skeleton without these guys [Waldorf Productions].” This statement is hard to argue with. Prior to Waldorf Productions Inc. leasing the hotel, the area had a less-than-positive image associated with it. The creative force behind the lessees breathed life into an area of town that would’ve otherwise continued to suffer and be avoided. Their efforts haven’t gone unnoticed by the community, which has been rallying in support.

What’s most disheartening is that when budgets need to be cut, arts programming is usually the first to suffer — in schools and in the community. So where does it end and when should the rallying stop? There are no guarantees in this situation — especially when Solterra has not clearly stated their intent with the building or area. Perhaps with enough persuasion,

Solterra can be convinced to consider leasing to Waldorf Productions Inc. The city is made up of the people who live in it, not merely the buildings that scatter its skyline. We should speak up about what is important to us. If we don’t, who will?